International men of mystery
World Cup rosters should look similar to 2002 Olympic ones
The amount of e-mail regarding the 2004 World Cup of Hockey has been impressive. People seem genuinely interested in it event 10 months before it is slated to begin. Most of the e-mails have included a desire to see my possible rosters for each of the major teams.
With Wayne Gretzky being announced as the executive director of Team Canada again, as he was for the '02 Olympics, several people have wondered who I believe will fill the rosters of both the American and Canadian teams. While I don't want to start fights over my choices for the Slovakian team, I will give my rosters for Team USA and Team Canada.
The two-week event returns next September after an eight-year absence since the epic 1996 tournament, where the U.S. beat Canada in the three-game final. The inaugural World Cup was played in 1996, and was the offspring of international hockey competitions such as the 1972 Summit Series, the Challenge Cup in 1979, Rendez-Vous '87, and a series of Canada Cup Tournaments, last played in 1991.
Each country is required to announce at least 18 of its 23 players by Feb. 1, 2004, though there has been a groundswell of support to get that date pushed back by at least two months. The balance of the team must be appointed by June 20, 2004. Each team will conduct a 10-day training camp beginning Aug. 20, 2004, and play two exhibition games prior to the start of the World Cup.
Team USA will train in Columbus, Ohio, while Team Canada likely will hold its workouts in Ottawa. Montreal, Toronto and St. Paul, Minn., are the three North American cities that will host games for the pool consisting of Canada, Russia, Slovakia and the U.S. The Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Sweden form the European Pool and will play in Europe though the quarterfinals.
The tournament opens on Aug. 30 when Finland and the Czech Republic square off in Helsinki. Then Canada and the U.S. will meet on Aug. 31 at the Bell Center in a battle of the reigning Olympic and World Cup champs.
Send me your lists of possible teams, as I'm sure the debate over who should represent each country will heat up each month as the tournament draws closer.
Under this scenario for Team USA, only eight of the players from the 2002 Olympic team wouldn't be returning. Tom Barrasso, Phil Housley, Mike Richter and Gary Suter are retired, while Chris Chelios, John LeClair, Aaron Miller and Scott Young have seen their play fall off to the point where they may not warrant consideration.
And just for fun (and since I'll get a ton of e-mails if I don't do it) here is a possible look for Team Canada, too. I expect Gretzky will name Pat Quinn to return as the head coach, since he opted for the same leadership team as 2002 among the front-office types, too. I would like to see Jacques Martin or Andy Murray get a crack at it, but Quinn brought Canada it's first gold since 1952, so Gretzky is probably feeling that Quinn is deserving of an encore if he's interested.
Among those on the 2002 Canadian Olympic team who probably won't return are Ed Belfour, Theo Fleury, Curtis Joseph, Eric Lindros, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman.
It's interesting to note the amount of turnover on the Canadian roster, especially among the skill players. Both Thornton and Bertuzzi weren't on the 2002 Olympic team, with Thornton's exclusion being the most controversial of all of the roster moves. If Heatley is healthy and his legal woes are behind him, his inclusion would seem to be a lock, since his situation is similar to how Gretzky stuck by Smyth even though he broke his leg just eight weeks before the Olympics started. After all, Heatley was probably a safe bet to play on Canada's top line in '04 before his injury.
Many thanks to international hockey expert Joe Pelletier for his sage advice in pointing out a few omissions to my initial rosters when I discussed the subject with him prior to publication. His expertise on the Summit Series, Canada Cups and World Cup of 1996 is invaluable, and I urge you all to check out his Web site and buy the excellent book he co-authored with Patrick Houda.
I'm sure e-mailers will be able to point out several more that they feel should be included, too. And for those of you who are clamoring for a schedule, you can find it below. Since the NHL's collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA is scheduled to expire on Sept. 15, the Sept. 14 final in Toronto could be the last NHL-quality hockey we see for awhile.
Ever since Mark Messier's recent achievement as the No. 2 all-time point scorer, do you think he'll have enough in him to lead the New York Rangers to another Stanley Cup, or at least just the playoffs? -- Justin McNally, St. Louis
Messier is off to an incredible start to the season, especially for a man who will be 43 in January. While he always will be regarded as the Messiah to Rangers fans -- and go read Jeff Z. Klein's excellent biography Messier for more on his stature in Manhattan -- it's highly unlikely that Moose will keep up his current pace of 44 goals. While shooting your age in golf is one thing, doing so as a 40-something in hockey would be quite another. I think the Rangers will contend for a playoff spot, but a Stanley Cup parade down the Canyon of Heroes is a huge longshot.
Do you think Paul Maurice would have lasted this long with any other team in the NHL? -- Andy, Savannah, Ga.
Why is the Hurricanes' power play so awful? Is it the players or the coaching? -- Les Fingerhut, Cary, N.C.
The Hurricanes have certainly been very patient with Maurice through some tough times, but their patience usually has been rewarded. Six months after nearly getting fired when Carolina was struggling early in the 2001-02 season, Maurice led them on a romp through the East and into the Stanley Cup finals, where they ran out of gas against the more talented Red Wings. But Maurice always gets a lot out of his players and his style has enabled Carolina to compete against teams who it apparently wouldn't stack up against well with on paper.
Maurice may not have the most innovative systems in the world, but he doesn't have a lot to work with right now, as the team isn't rich with offensive talent. Even though Ron Francis is likely to retire after this season, the future looks bright for the 'Canes with youngsters like Radim Vrbata and Josef Vasicek. Jim Rutherford getting Vrbata from the Avalanche at the trade deadline for Bates Battaglia could turn out to be one of the better trades in recent memory. I know Vrbata is struggling to find the back of the net, but he's getting lots of scoring chances.
Will the Ottawa Senators have enough competition in the playoffs to prepare them for the Stanley Cup finals against a tough Western opponent? -- Cam Atkins, Peterborough, Ontario
Isn't it a little early to canonize the Senators and say that they will waltz through the East? By the looks of things, the East is stronger than the West this season, so Ottawa will have plenty of teams that can challenge it for a berth in the finals.
Which do you think is the next European country NHL scouts are going to start visiting now that they seem to have started covering Germany and Switzerland? -- Graham Tilden, London, England
Scouts already travel to nearly every corner of Europe. But if I had to say which country is the next untapped place for scouts to start visiting, I would guess Liechtenstein.
Who do you think the toughest man in hockey is now and of all times? -- Gaetan Crivaro, Philadelphia
Who are the top 10 tough guys for the 2003-04 year? -- John Marshall, Penfield, N.Y.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that someone from Philly would be interested in the pugilistic side of pucks.
My 2003-04 tough guy rankings:
1. Georges Laraque is so tough that few guys will actually fight him.
As for all time, the toughest guys to ever play the game are Tiger Williams, Dave Schultz, Chris Nilan, Bob Probert, Tie Domi, Gordie Howe and Messier. I know that Dale Hunter, Marty McSorley, Rob Ray, Craig Berube, Tim Hunter and Rick Tocchet are also in the top 10 in all-time penalty minutes, but I think the first five were the most feared men ever to play the game. Not that I'd like personally throw down with any of them. Howe and Messier didn't have the penalty minutes of the rest of the guys on this list, but anyone who ever ran into their elbows, knees, shoulders or sticks would tell you that they are among the toughest competitors in the history of the game.
Why do the refs put someone else to faceoff sometimes like to change postions? -- Mike Moses, Tampa, Fla.
Players get thrown out of faceoffs for trying to gain an illegal advantage before the puck is dropped. The NHL rulebook spends nearly three pages outlining the intricacies of the faceoff rules, but the short of it is that players must be in position to take the draw in a timely manner, must obey the linesman's commands when preparing for the faceoff, and must not cross the designated lines around the faceoff circle in an attempt to gain an advantage by spinning to draw the puck back to his teammates.
To make the NHL a bit more interesting to the sometime viewer, do you think it might be wise to go to a 3-on-5 power play for each team for say a three-minute stretch for each team after a tie game situation is reached? If a team scores on its power play, the other team has equal opportunity to score akin to college football. -- W. Borree, Hatgana, Guam
That's just about the craziest idea I've ever heard in my entire life. Yet I think it's genius. You are a mad, mad genius, Mr. Borree. I expect that your revolutionary ideas will allow you to become commissioner of the Guam Hockey League in no time at all.
Do you think the Avs will be as successful as they were the last couple years with the strengh of their division now and their lineup having the constant injuries? -- R.J., Rhinelander, Wis.
First things first, R.J. As a fellow Cheesehead, I must wonder if you are an alum of Rhinelander High School, home to the greatest nickname in the state of Wisconsin -- the Hodags. The only one that comes close is the Monroe Cheesemakers. OK, let's get back on task. The Northwest Division is indeed the best in hockey, but it should again come down to the Avs and Canucks, as it did last year. Colorado may see its remarkable nine-year streak of division titles come to an end, because Vancouver is so deep and talented. But the Avs realized in their first-round loss to the Wild last spring that the postseason is what matters, not an impressive regular season. Even though Colorado is battling injuries and struggling to find chemistry with newcomers Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya (before he got hurt), I think the Avs will be fine in the long run, and should be good enough to secure home ice for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Why haven't their been better stategies to beat the trap? Would abolishing the red line assist? -- Norb, Boulder, Colo.
How's the Sink doing? Having lived about 300 feet from there during my senior year at CU, I made more than my fair share of appearances there. Back to your question, Norb. It's kind of hard to beat a defense that is designed to slow down your skaters and often features what should be called as interference.
If Roman Turek is out for an extended period, what will the Flames do? What kind of goaltenders are available for trade? -- Mike Hockenhull, Calgary, Alberta
There are plenty of goalies available, but Calgary will ride Jamie McLennan until his hot streak ends. If Turek ends up being out longer than expected and Noodles' play slips dramatically, then the Flames might go out and make a minor deal for a goaltender. But don't expect them to be players for Curtis Joseph, Byron Dafoe, Sean Burke, Brian Boucher or any of the available netminders who make more than $2 million. More likely targets might then be solid backups such as Atlanta's Jani Hurme or San Jose's Miikaa Kiprusoff, who would come cheaply.
Why are home teams wearing dark uniforms this year? What is the reasoning for this - merchandising? -- Eddie Sotomayor, Raleigh, N.C.
The reason is so that Eddie Sotomayor and all of his buddies will shell out another $150 to now buy the red 'Canes jersey to go along with their old white 'Canes jersey that they used to wear to home games. The league claims it was a move to tradition, as dark jerseys were worn at home back in the Original Six days, but in the end it all comes down to a desire for more dollars.
I sure am glad the team and our fans dont turn their backs on the T-Birds as quick as you clowns do. After beating Buffalo 7-4, we are tied for first in the eastern conference, and yet you drop us behind a tired looking Anaheim with an even tireded 4-7-1-1 record. Duh great call moron -- Rob Turnipseed, Atlanta
If your last name is Turnipseed, are you really eligible to make fun of anyone? The Power Rankings are done each Tuesday, so only the results through Monday night are included. And where did you learn to write, moron? In what language is "tireded" a word? I hope you didn't go to Atlanta Public Schools, but if you did, it would be yet another reason for me to someday send my sons to private school.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.